On August 5, 2020, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and Alliance for Young Artists & Writers announced the 5 students comprising the annual class of their National Student Poets Program (NSPP). Isabella Ramirez, a student at West Palm Beach’s Dreyfoos School of the Arts, serves as the National Student Poet for the Southeast Region, which includes Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. During her year as National Student Poet, Isabella will serve the communities in the region and state during her year of service with activities such as conducting workshops, performing readings, and even leading training for community leaders. We spoke to Isabella about the journey that led her to this honor.
How long have you lived/been in Florida?
I was born and raised in Florida, so I’ve lived here all my life!
What got you started with the literary arts and writing poetry?
As a child, you could always find me with a book in hand or writing in a composition notebook, so in a way, the literary arts were something that I found myself naturally inclined to. I didn’t start getting serious about the literary arts however until I auditioned for Bak Middle School of the Arts as a communications major. There, I was exposed to creative writing, poetry, film, and journalism in an academic setting that allowed me to begin cultivating my interest in the communication arts. Interestingly enough, I spent much of my time in middle school and eventually high school as a student journalist way before I ever called myself a poet. Although I had always written poetry and appreciated the art form, I didn’t truly begin my journey as a poet until I joined the slam poetry team at my high school my junior year. From there, opportunities blossomed out of poetry, and I couldn’t be more grateful.
How did you find out about the National Student Poet competition?
My first exposure to the National Student Poets Program was in 2019 when I attended the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards Ceremony held at Carnegie Hall as a gold medal recipient in journalism. The National Student Poets get to perform at the awards ceremony, so I saw the Class of 2018 perform their poems and was absolutely mesmerized. However, even with that, I didn’t know much about the program until the following year when I was named a national silver medal recipient in poetry, qualifying me for the National Student Poets Program.
What was the process of preparing and applying like? What are you looking forward to about the opportunity?
The only way to be considered for the program is by receiving a national medal in poetry from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, which only about 400 works out of the original 20,500 received. From there, I found out I was one of 40 semi-finalists selected for the program, and I submitted an application with a portfolio of work and videos of myself performing that work. Then, in summer of 2020, I found out I was selected to be the National Student Poet for the Southeast Region of the United States. I was so happy; I had never imagined when I initially submitted my poetry to find myself in such an honorable position. There are so many exciting things that come with being a National Student Poet, but I’d have to say I’m most excited for engaging with my local communities through the literary arts and poetry to hopefully share my passion with others.
What are some of your artistic influences? What are you currently working on?
I have a variety of artistic influences, but the main ones include other slam poets such as Olivia Gatwood and Melissa Lozada-Oliva and news/politics. Many of my poems are my reflections on socio-political issues and often my personal experiences with them, so the news tends to be one of the biggest influences on my poetry. Currently, I’m working on preparing slam poems for the upcoming Louder Than A Bomb Florida Slam Poetry Competition. As you can imagine, there’s certainly a lot to write about after living through 2020.
What do you think is the greatest moment that you’ve been a part of within your local arts community?
One of the greatest events I’ve been able to be a part of within my local arts community was the Louder Than A Bomb (LTAB) Florida Slam Poetry Competition. The competition happened to fall in March of 2020, which was right when the United States began shutting down and life changed drastically due to the pandemic. My peers and the community were in much need of relief, and LTAB helped bring us all together. LTAB shifted the competition to online, and despite the virtual setting, I felt that the excitement and “hype” that exists at slam poetry competitions translated well online. It was a chance for me to get my poetry out there and watch live the Facebook comments and support from the slam poetry community pour in. I also had the chance to listen to other students’ poems and learn from my peers, which is my favorite part of slam poetry. During a time where many were feeling disconnected and lost, LTAB brought together the Florida community to share and connect through poetry.
What do you think of when you hear our motto “Culture Builds Florida”? Why are arts and culture important to our state?
When I hear the motto “Culture Builds Florida,” I reflect on the impact arts and culture have as the foundation of our society. As someone who was able to tap into arts education in Florida early in my life, I cannot even express how enriching it has been to have access to the literary arts and gain invaluable life skills and opportunities from it. The arts exposes people to worlds that exist outside of their own and allows people to develop an empathy for others they wouldn’t have otherwise had. In a diverse state like Florida, this empathy and connection that the arts stimulate is necessary to building bridges across cultures. As a Latinx individual in Florida, the vibrant Hispanic culture that exists in Florida and presence of our arts has not only let me connect with others from my community, but further connect with my own identity. Arts and culture truly build Florida as the backbone of this state, and I couldn’t be more proud.
Thank you for chatting with us, Isabella. Is there anything you would like to add?
If you would like to get in contact with me and discuss how I can serve your community as National Student Poet, you can email the program’s manager, Hannah Jones, at email@example.com. For any news coverage requests, please email the program’s publicist, Kelly Forsythe, at firstname.lastname@example.org.